The phrase “nature and nurture” is a convenient jingle of words, for it separates under two distinct heads the innumerable elements of which personality is composed. Nature is all that a man brings with himself into the world; nurture is every influence from without that affects him after his birth. The distinction is clear: the one produces the infant such as it actually is, including its latent faculties of growth of body and mind; the other affords the environment amid which the growth takes place, by which natural tendencies may be strengthened or thwarted, or wholly new ones implanted.
—English Men of Science: Their Nature and Nurture
Ever since Sir Francis Galton coined one of science's few bona fide sound bites—“nature versus nurture”—the nature-nurture debate has reverberated through the halls of academia. To what extent are important human characteristics innate or learned? Nowhere is this debate more contentious than in the study of gender.
Given that gender is the topic of this book, it is perhaps ironic to start with a quote from Galton, who didn't even deign to include women in his purview (“Nature is all that a man brings with himself into the world…”). Although Galton is credited with originating the nature-nurture debate in psychology, he also is sometimes criticized for being sexist and racist. Whatever Galton's ideologies, his words are an appropriate starting point, for they not only set the tone for the nature-nurture debate, but they also hint at the political and ideological overtones that would come to inflame that debate.